Sunday, November 4, 2007

Full of Yourself

The other day I had the slightly queasy experience of finding a book in my store written by someone I knew once, long ago. (No, not an ex!) It made me kind of sad, not because there was anything much wrong with the book, but because I knew lots of good writers then, really wonderful writers with lots of potential, all of them better than this guy. But those other wonderful writers moved on, or quit, or worked hard for a while and then gave up. But this writer didn't. He clung to his pretty mediocre stories for a long, long time, and finally had them published by a more-than-respectable publisher. Good for him!

But I wonder about the writers I know who have quit, and what they didn't have that the Published Guy did. Well, persistence obviously, but why?

Perhaps I'm a little too fond of making generalizations, but whatever: All the quitters I've known have been plagued by crises of confidence, even while doing excellent and worthwhile work, while the Published Guys (mostly, but certainly not all, guys) seem totally immune to negative feedback. (For the record, I consider myself to have a foot in each camp -- never quitting, exactly, but definitely flailing for long periods.)

It seems so unfair. I can think of three different writers, all women incidentally, whose work I admired but whose self-doubts ballooned in the face of some fairly minor criticism. They eventually quit writing fiction altogether. The Published Guy, I remember, used to argue vehemently in defense of his work, to the point where everyone else just shut up.

I think a lot -- a lot -- about the writers who've given up, and about the books that never got written. Being hard on yourself and self-critical seems like a good quality, but it might actually be a kind of poison, one lethal in high doses.

6 comments:

elizabeth said...

I fret over that, too, although I hope it's not a woman's particular writerly ailment. I've done my fair share of flailing- but not drowning, waving? For the time being.

Also, tangentally- hi! I'm with Land Grant College Review, and we were wondering if you or your blogmates would be willing to take a gander at our new issue? If so, and there's a place I can send it, please let me know. Thanks so much.

rmellis said...

I don't think it's entirely a woman thing, but among the writers I know, the women are generally more hard on themselves. I have no idea why this is.

Writer, Rejected said...

I sometimes get phenomenally depressed in bookstores too.

anne said...

It feels pretty distinctly a woman thing sometimes-- maybe because I'm a woman. It's too easy for me to think that taking care of the people and things around you is vastly more important than my little short story or novel or whatever. And then I think about that Shakespeare quote about self-love being less vile than self-neglecting and feel good about writing. And then I end up volunteering to do some time-consuming (though gratifying) civic chore. Not to mention the job, the 8 year old and the 18 month old. I'm writing from New Orleans which we're kind of trying to rebuild, and over the last two years fiction writing hardly registers on my to-do list. Enough. I'm totally whining!!

5 Red Pandas said...

You have to decide if writing is the one thing you won't sacrifice.
My apartment might not pass the white glove test, but I'm ok with that. I generally don't invite people over, but it seems like you can get away with that more in NYC than in other places. Nobody thinks you're weird if you don't have them over.

The perverse flip side of giving up is of course not giving up despite not seeing results. I hope I don't turn into a crazy person, flogging the same manuscript years from now, having alienated all of my friends who don't ever want to hear about my stupid book ever again.

the individual voice said...

This is a beautiful post. Recalls Tillie Olsen's "Silences." I feel enormous pain around this issue, too much to express here.

But at least I quit my NaNoWriMo for a good cause.